GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Enes Kanter was caught off guard by his trade to the Knicks. He was conducting a basketball clinic for orphaned children in Oklahoma City on Saturday when his phone rang. His friend picked it up and told Kanter it was “urgent.”
Kanter got on the phone and listened with excitement as his manager told him he was being traded to the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony. The veteran center was excited because he loves New York.
“After I went home and packed my stuff, I woke up in the middle of the night and punched myself,” Kanter said Monday during Media Day. “I said, ‘Is this a dream? Is this really happening?’”
The Knicks acquired Kanter, Doug McDermott and Chicago’s 2018 second-round pick for Anthony.
Kanter seemed truly happy to be a Knick, even though he left a team that was a perennial winner for one that is rebuilding. The 6-foot-11 Turkish center said he believed the Knicks are “a great team” and that they have “something special here.”
“When you get traded to a new team you feel a little weird in that locker room,” Kanter said. “But when I stepped in that locker room everybody was just laughing, smiling, having fun. That’s what I was looking for – a young team that sticks together.
“I see this team as family. I stepped in that locker room and everybody gave me a high five and said, welcome home and everything.”
Kanter said it’s important for him to feel like his team is family. Thunder guard and reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook instilled in Kanter that your team has to be close and view opponents as the enemy. Kanter hopes the Knicks have that outlook.
“Every time you’re out there you don’t feel bad for nobody because they’re not going to feel bad for us,” Kanter said. “Every time you go out there you try to take his heart out. That’s what I learned from Russell Westbrook.
“You’ve got no friends. This is your family and that’s it. You’ve got no other friends off the team. You don’t shake hands, you don’t say hi. You don’t smile at him. Because when the game’s going on, it’s on, it’s a war. That’s what I learned from Westbrook and that’s how I feel now that I’m here and I hope that my teammates are like that too.”
The Knicks now have four centers – Willy Hernangomez, Kanter, Joakim Noah and Kyle O’Quinn – and could play Kristaps Porzingis in the middle. It appears they could look to make another move to clear some of the glut at center.
But Kanter, 25, would fit the Knicks’ youth movement and give them some much-needed scoring off the bench.
He has averaged 11.3 points in his career for Utah and Oklahoma City. Last season, he produced 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in 72 games as a reserve.
Kanter’s defense has been a major weakness – and it cost him minutes in the playoffs last season. But the Knicks are asking their players to be more committed defensively, and Kanter said he’s going to put in the work. He’s just happy to be playing in a major market and in New York, where he spends part of his offseason.
“I always played for the small cities and I was wondering what it would be like to play in a bigger city like New York,” Kanter said. “So I always just keep thinking that. I was with all these guys playing pickup this summer, all these New York guys and they were just friendly, really nice and warm people and I’m really excited to be here, seriously.
“Also there’s a big Turkish community here, a lot of Turkish restaurants. I’ll take you guys out to eat one day.”
When Kanter was with the Jazz, Jeff Hornacek was an assistant coach, so he has a relationship with him. Kanter, McDermott and Hornacek went to dinner together Sunday night, where the Knicks coach told them how he envisioned the Knicks playing this season.
If they play fast-paced and shoot three-pointers like Hornacek’s Suns did a few years ago, McDermott could be a good fit. He’s a career 39.4-percent three-point shooter.
“I’m excited to play in the system,” McDermott said. “I’ve known coach Hornacek for a long time. I worked out for the Phoenix Suns when he was there. So I’m kind of familiar with what he’s trying to do out there. I feel like this is a system I can really benefit in.”